Government must invest to end 'historic' GP crisis in wake of COVID-19, says BMA

General practice is facing 'historic workforce and workload crises' that have been exacerbated by the pandemic - and needs a long-term government funding commitment to recover, the BMA's GP leader has warned.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

In a keynote speech at the UK LMCs conference on 11 May, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that GPs and practice staff have been 'tested like never before' over the past 14 months.

General practice has 'risen to and met the challenge' of the COVID-19 pandemic - but many within the profession have been left 'physically exhausted and mentally drained', the Leeds GP said.

He pointed to a 'historic' dual crisis of workload and workforce that has been deepened by the pandemic and that requires long-term government investment to turn around.

GP workload

Dr Vautrey highlighted the surge in appointments delivered by general practice in March this year - the 28.5m total was 20% up on the previous month and the highest figure recorded in a single month since October 2019.

He pointed to a GP workforce that is smaller than it was in 2015 when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised an extra 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs - while patient numbers, complexity of GP work and demand have risen.

The GPC chair also praised general practice for its 'remarkable achievement' in delivering the bulk of COVID-19 vaccinations in a campaign that has now seen more than two thirds of the UK adult population receive at least one jab - while one in three UK adults have had two doses.

Dr Vautrey called for 'real and meaningful support' from the government to help the profession emerge from the pandemic - and to ensure it is in a better position to cope with any future crisis.

Investment in general practice

He said: 'We don’t just need our patients’ understanding, we have often had that throughout this last year, we need governments to act. Not just with letters of thanks, which have been welcome, but with real and meaningful supportive action.

'We don’t just need short-term fixes, but a long-term commitment to investment and development of general practice, to properly redress the years that have left us as we are. We cannot allow another crisis to hit us without being better prepared.'

Dr Vautrey argued that the appointments and workforce data show only 'part of the story' of what is happening in general practice.

'It fails to show the complexity of what we deal with each day,' he said. 'It fails to show the additional activity, the growing number of prescriptions reviewed and signed, the large amount of investigations processed. It fails to recognise the intensity and pressure on our reception staff dealing with huge numbers of telephone calls and the rapidly growing number of e-consult requests.

COVID-19 backlog

'It fails to recognise the shifted work and the need to manage far more patients waiting for procedures or appointments as general practice is impacted by the serious backlog in work in secondary care and elsewhere in the system. And it fails to show the bureaucracy that we and our practice managers still have to contend with but which somehow alongside everything else we manage.'

Dr Vautrey added: 'The remarkable achievement of delivering the COVID-19 vaccination programme so quickly and effectively despite all the challenges and difficulties, and after also delivering the biggest ever flu vaccine campaign, is down to the dedication and hard work of so many people in general practice. The nation owes you a huge debt of gratitude.

'But it’s also a sign of the strength and benefit of the independent contractor model of general practice, something this conference has repeatedly highlighted year after year.'

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